Juvenile Justice Intervention Center youths stayed at Hunt after Hurricane Ida (Photo by Rachel Mipro/Louisiana Illuminator)
The evacuation of teenagers from a New Orleans juvenile detention center to an adult prison was done after efforts to find a juvenile evacuation site were “exhausted,” city officials said in a joint statement with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Monday evening.
The Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, which sent 36 teenagers to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center ahead of Hurricane Ida, tried to evacuate to a juvenile facility, but couldn’t find one to take its detainees, said John Lawson, spokesman for New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, in a written statement.
“JJIC exhausted all efforts to locate a juvenile facility and requested assistance from The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C) to provide a safe and secure evacuation location,” the statement said.
Still, children advocates said New Orleans broke the law when it sent the juvenile detainees to an adult lockup. Louisiana prohibits people who are under the authority of the juvenile court system from being housed in an adult jail or prison.
The New Orleans juvenile detention center has had a “local level emergency evacuation and housing partnership agreement” with the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, which runs the state’s adult prison system, since 2018, according to information released Monday night.
It is unclear why the detention center expected to move the teenagers to a juvenile facility if it had a standing evacuation contract with the state agency that runs the adult prison system. City officials haven’t responded to follow-up questions since releasing the statement Monday night.
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The Department of Public Safety and Corrections does not oversee the state’s juvenile lockups. Those are run by a separate state agency called the Office of Juvenile Justice. The detention center’s standing agreement with the Department of Public Safety and Corrections would not have covered an evacuation to any correctional center that houses juvenile offenders.
Five other Louisiana juvenile detention centers who were in the path of Hurricane Ida also managed to move their teenage detainees to other juvenile facilities. The New Orleans detention center is the only one who sent their teenagers to an adult prison.
The New Orleans juvenile detention center told guardians and attorneys about the evacuation, but parents and advocates have complained that they didn’t realize the teenagers would be going to an adult facility.
City officials also refused to say for several days where the juvenile detainees had been sent during Hurricane Ida. They said they couldn’t share the location because of security concerns.
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While at the adult prison, the teenagers and New Orleans detention center staff were kept separately from adult inmates, according to state prison and city officials.
“All policies were followed and at no time were these two populations ever co-mingled, and the detainees were supervised by JJIC staff. They were returned to the JJIC in New Orleans uninjured and unharmed,” read the statement released Monday night.
But at least one parent of a 14 year-old sent to the adult prison said her son saw an adult inmate while the teenager was evacuated to the adult facility. He told his mother he had been kept in a “grown man’s prison” for five days, she said.
Read the full statement released by New Orleans and the state prison system below:
The Juvenile Justice Intervention Center (JJIC) immediately activated its Emergency Evacuation Plan prior to Hurricane Ida’s landfall. JJIC exhausted all efforts to locate a juvenile facility and requested assistance from The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS&C) to provide a safe and secure evacuation location. JJIC and the DPS&C have had a local level emergency evacuation and housing partnership agreement in place since 2018. JJIC staff immediately contacted the guardians and attorneys to notify them of the evacuation plans. However, many of the families had already evacuated New Orleans, and were then notified via phone of the plan to transport the detainees and 26 JJIC staff members to a safe location. JJIC staff were in constant communication with the families and attorneys prior to the transport to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center on Aug. 27, during their stay, and upon return on Sept. 1.
During this declared state of emergency, and at the request of the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, the DPS&C provided a safe and secure shelter for a vulnerable population during what weather experts and state leaders were calling a life-threatening storm. The DPS&C’s top priority was to assist in the evacuation of individuals out of the path of a very dangerous storm. JJIC’s system-involved youth and staff were housed temporarily in an EHCC facility isolated from buildings which housed adult inmates at the prison. The location was initially undisclosed as a matter of safety protocols. All policies were followed and at no time were these two populations ever co-mingled, and the detainees were supervised by JJIC staff. They were returned to the JJIC in New Orleans uninjured and unharmed.
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